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STUDY 23: JOHN 17 - JESUS’ PRAYER TO HIS FATHER

© Rosemary Bardsley 2009

In Christ's prayer in John 17 we overhear expressions of the unique relationship between the Son and the Father. We also overhear references to the relationship between Christ and his disciples, and between Christ and us, who have believed in him because of the testimony of the disciples. We are amazed here in this prayer that there is so little reference to the cross; Christ’s focus and concern is on those who believe in him, not on the suffering he is about to endure.

We notice also that this prayer was intended to be overheard; its audience is not the Father alone, but those eleven disciples present with him who were in a little while about to be utterly devastated [see 17:13 ]. It is also meant to be overheard by us, centuries later, so that we also, like them, will be encouraged and instructed by it.

 

A. GLORY – JOHN 17:1-5

The first thing that impresses us as we eavesdrop on this conversation between Christ and his Father is the concept of glory. Addressing God as ‘Father’ Jesus prays:

‘Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you’ [17:1]

Jesus' prayer here is not ‘you do this for me so that I can do that for you’. Rather his prayer is grounded in the basic unity between himself and his Father: if he is glorified, the Father is automatically glorified. This recalls his teaching in John 5:23: ‘He who does not honour the Son does not honour the Father, who sent him.’ When we behold the glory of the Son we are beholding the glory of God the Father. When Christ seeks his own glory he is seeking the glory of the Father; only when Christ is glorified is the Father glorified.

‘This is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent’ [17:3]

Knowing God and knowing Jesus Christ is eternal life. Not one without the other, but both together. There are many who claim to know God, but without the knowledge of Jesus Christ whom God has sent, that knowledge is spurious. It is the incarnate Son of God who reveals the one true God. Let us note also that it is knowing this one true God, and Jesus Christ whom he has sent, that is eternal life. To know God through Christ is eternal life. Eternal life is not something we possess apart from and distinct from God. Knowing him is life.

For those who want to consider the implications of this statement of Christ: this statement indicates the gravity of the current reductions of the gospel, where eternal life is promised quite apart from any genuine knowledge of Jesus Christ. Such a promise is invalid and bears no similarity to the Biblical Gospel. Study the Gospel and the first letter of John in depth: you will notice that eternal life is inseparably linked with the person of Jesus Christ.

We also learn from this verse that the Father of Jesus, God revealed by Jesus, is ‘the only true God’. There is no other. Nor, as we have already learned right through this Gospel, and particularly from 14:6, this God who is the only true God, can only be known and approached, through Jesus Christ his Son. So Jesus here teaches again that eternal life consists in knowing his Father who is the only true God, and knowing him, Jesus Christ. The latter is the only way that the former occurs. One cannot know the only true God without knowing Jesus Christ.

‘I have brought you glory on earth ...’ [17:4]

‘I have revealed you ...’ (verse 6)

‘I have made you known ...’ (verse 26)

In these statements Jesus sums up his ministry: it is the ministry of making known the Father. The substitutionary, sin-bearing work of Christ on the cross only comes after he has revealed the Father. The primary need of mankind is to know God, to be saved from the dark blindness of ignorance of God; salvation from sin is secondary. Essential, but secondary. Without true knowledge of God there is no accurate knowledge of the gravity of sin and its effects because there is no accurate knowledge of God's holiness and sovereignty. The original sin [Genesis 3] involved at its heart rejection of the true knowledge of God and rebellion against his authority. While in his dying Christ undid the legal penalty of sin - separation from God, in his living he demonstrated before our eyes precisely and accurately who God is. It this making the Father known that brings both glory to the Father and eternal life to those who have, because of the revelatory work of Christ, come to know the Father.

We must not overlook the connection and interdependence between these four verses [1-4]: Jesus makes the Father known; this results in people knowing him, the only true God and Jesus Christ, whom he sent; to know him is to have eternal life; this results in the glory of the Father and the Son.

‘ … by completing the work you gave me to do’ [17:4b]

Jesus speaks of his work as completed, here at the end of his life and ministry, and before the cross. As we will see in a little while, there is also glory in the cross, additional to this glory. He brought glory to the Father: this is the glory of which John spoke in his introduction: ‘The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth’ [ 1:14 ].

‘And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began’ [17:5]

When we study the concept of the glory of Christ in John’s Gospel we find three aspects of that glory:

In each of these the glory of the Father is also seen.

Study this threefold glory of the Son, and the glory of the Father in these verses. How is the Son glorified, and what is the impact of that glory?

John 1:14

John 2:11

John 7:39

John 8:50,54

John 11:4,40-42

John 12:16

John 12:23,28

John 12:41

John 13:31-32

John 16:14

John 17:1

John 17:4

John 17:5

John 17:10

John 17:24

 

B. CHRIST’S DESCRIPTION OF HIS DISCIPLES – JOHN 17:6-19

As we read through Christ’s prayer for his disciples we see ourselves as believers through his eyes.

What do you learn about believers [about yourself, if you are a believer] from these verses in John 17?

[Note: some verses have multiple concepts; multiple rows are provided for these.]

6

 

 

7

 8

 

 

9

 

10

12

13

14

 

16

18

19

We can sum up these concepts about believers under several categories:

The action of the Father

[1] Christ refers to his disciples as those that the Father gave to him [verses 6 (twice), 9; also in verse 24].

[2] This assumes that they were the Father’s to give, and this divine ownership is expressed in verses 6, 9 and 10].

[3] The Father has loved us [23].

The action of the Son

[1] Christ revealed or made known to the disciples the Father [6, see also 26], and the Father’s words [8,14].

[2] Christ prays for them and also for us [9,15; see also 20ff].

[3] Christ protected the disciples while he was in the world [12] keeping them safe by his name.

[4] Christ’s wants us to have the full measure of joy within us [13]

[5] Christ ‘sanctified’ himself for us, and wants us to be ‘truly sanctified’ [18].

[6] Christ has given us glory [22].

The action and identity of the believer

[1] Believers have believed and obeyed the Fathers’ word [6,8]

[2] Believers know that everything the Son has comes from the Father [7]

[3] Believers know that the Son came from the Father, sent by the Father [8,25]

[4] Believers belong to the Father and the Son [10]

[5] Glory has come to Christ through believers [10]

[6] Believers are still in the world but not ‘of the world’ [11,14,15,16]

[7] The world hates believers [14]

[8] Christ has given believers glory [22]

[9] Christ’s purpose for believers is unity with each other and unity with himself [21-23]

In all of this the proactive initiative and work of God is evident. We are believers, we belong to Christ, because of the action of the Father and the action of the Son. As we have seen previously in this Gospel, be are believers and belong to Christ because of the action of the Holy Spirit also.

 

C. CHRIST’S PRAYERS FOR HIS FOLLOWERS

C.1 Christ’s prayer for the eleven disciples – John 17:6-19

From 17:20 we understand that what Christ prays for the eleven disciples, while specifically about them and Christ’s interaction with them during his incarnation, also has application to all who will believe. Christ also indicates clearly [17:9] that he is not praying for the world, but specifically for his disciples.

In this section of his prayer Christ asks his Father to:

Protect them by the power of your name - the name you gave me - so that they may be one as we are one [11]. The word Jesus uses here – tereo - is the same word repeatedly used for keeping his word, teaching or commands. He is asking his Father to keep us, to guard us. This security comes from the power of God’s name – from all that he is, which is also the name the Father gave to Christ – all that Christ is. Our security and safety is thus in God himself, Christ himself. The purpose/result/reason for this prayer and this protection is the unity of believers. This does not necessarily mean a physical unity in which, for instance, we all identify with the same denominational tag, but a spiritual unity – a unity that is a unity in Christ. The kind of unity Paul taught in Ephesians 2 and 3.

Protect them from the evil one [15].

Jesus is about to leave the disciples in the world [11]. Because they belong to him, they no longer belong to the world [16]. They are aliens in a world that is now hostile to them. He is, as it were, leaving them in enemy territory, among people who follow the ways of the world and of the ruler of this world [Ephesians 2:2], with whose lifestyle and values they used to identify [Ephesians 3:3,4]. Now that they have believed in Christ they are the targets of the evil one’s deceptive and destructive hatred. Jesus prays for our protection from this.

Sanctify them by the truth [17].

The word ‘sanctify’ means ‘set apart for sacred use’. Someone who is sanctified no longer has a common or ordinary purpose: the sanctified person is set apart by God for God’s use. This includes the concept of personal godliness [‘holiness’], so that in this sense this prayer includes prayer for what Christians call ‘sanctification’ – growth in personal godliness. But this personal godliness accompanies, rather than forms the foundation of, Christ’s prayer that God will sanctify his people. This ‘set apart’ understanding of ‘sanctify’ is confirmed by Jesus’ statement in verse 19: ‘For them I sanctify myself, that they may be truly sanctified.’ Jesus had no need to be sanctified in the sense of personal holiness; he was already perfect. When he ‘sanctified’ himself he set himself apart to do God’s will, with the intention and result that by that will we would be sanctified – set apart for God.

Notice that the means by which we are set apart is the word of God, the truth.

Jesus also, in this context, states that he has sent his disciples into the world, just as the Father sent him into the world. We are in the world, not as a penance, not as something we have to just grin and bear until his return, but as his set apart people: in the world, but distinct from it, set apart from it.

Reflection: What significance do these prayers have for you as a believer in a post-Christian world?

Protection by the power of the Father’s name

 

Protection from the evil one

 

Sanctification by God by the truth

 

 

C.2 Christ’s prayer for all believers – John 17:20-24

Along with the prayers in 6-19, which focused on the eleven disciples, but also had reference to us, Jesus now deliberately includes all believers – those eleven, plus all of us who believe through their message [20].

… that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you … [21]

He prays, first of all, for unity: that we may be one, just as the Father is in the Son and the Son in the Father. This is a prayer for an amazing unity. There is not one point of division or discord or disunity between the Son and the Father. They are one. There is distinction. There is specialization in role and responsibility within the trinity. But the in all of this the Father and Son act with one mind, one purpose, one will. This is the kind of unity he prays for us.

In addition, Christ states ‘I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one’ [22]. This is another amazing concept. Christ certainly cannot mean that he has given us his eternal glory which is his right by virtue of his deity, for we are not God. His next statement ‘I in them and you in me’ throws some light on his meaning: that Christ has given us the glory of his presence with us. It is not an automatically obvious glory, just as the glory of God in Christ was not automatically obvious. It was an incognito glory, a veiled glory. A glory veiled in humility and suffering: the glory of the way of the cross.

… May they also be in us … [21]

Not only does Christ pray for our interpersonal unity, but for our unity with himself and his Father, a oneness with him of mind and purpose that can only be described as being ‘in us’. This is, perhaps, another way of saying: ‘love the Lord your God with all your heart, and all your soul, and all your mind, and all your strength’. If all believers were loving God wholly, all believers would indeed be of one mind and purpose with each other and of one mind and one purpose with the Father and with the Son.

Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory [24]

This prayer expresses Christ’s will and intention for us [that is the significance of ‘want’]. Christ’s will for us, Christ’s intention for us, is that we will be where he is, that is, with him at the Father’s side, and that there we will see his glory. Not the veiled glory of the incarnation; not the intense glory of the cross; but his intrinsic, eternal glory as the Lord of lords, the King of kings, before whom the countless angels bow in wonder and adoration. This will indeed be the case, as the Book of Revelation makes clear [e.g. Revelation 5; 7:9-17].

 

C.3. The purpose of Christ’s prayers for all believers – John 17:20 -24

… so that the world may believe that you have sent me [21].

This is the result and intention of oneness among believers and our oneness with God. This unity for which Christ prays will confirm to the watching world that Christ is indeed who he claimed he was. Christ repeats this prayer in verse 23, where he again prays for unity: ‘may they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you loved me’.

The impact of unity touches first the world, then comes back from the world to Christ and to believers.

 

C.4 Christ’s final prayer – John 17:25-26

In verse 11 Jesus addressed his Father as ‘Holy Father’; here, in his final words to his Father in the presence of his disciples, he addressed him as ‘Righteous Father’. Righteous. Just. And if we pause to think we will wonder about this, for on the surface there seems to be nothing just, and everything unjust, about the arrest, trial and crucifixion that Jesus is about to experience. But if we think again, it is through this very injustice that the deep and powerful justice of God is met. Here God proves himself to be both just, and the one who justifies those who believe in the Son [Romans 3:24 -26]. This is, in Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, that ‘deeper magic’, whereby a sinner doomed to death is acquitted and goes free because of the death of a sinless substitute. And so, knowing he is about to die this sin-bearing, substitutionary death, addresses his Father as Righteous Father. What is about to happen looks like a distortion of justice. And so it was from a human perspective. But from the divine perspective this death is the depth of God’s justice and the power of God’s justice.

About knowing the Father

Jesus mentions three facts:

About the purpose/result of knowing the Father:

Jesus reveals the Father with two outcomes in mind:

This result/impact has a three-directional win/win outcome:

 

Reflection: What is your response to the aspects of Christ’s prayer listed below?

Unity among believers

 

That we see his glory

 

That we will be where he is

 

The impact on the world